In an op-ed in yesterday’s Daily News, Governor Ed Rendell cited the Citizen’s $10,000 voter lottery while forcefully making the case that we’re in a civic participation crisis. Noting that when he became mayor in 1991, 61 percent of registered voters turned out, compared to 29 percent when Michael Nutter was elected, Rendell wrote: “Now I’m not sure luring people to the polls with the possibility of a financial windfall is the ultimate answer. But I support anything that can turn the tide on this issue.”
Rendell argues that, if more people voted, elected officials would listen more closely to their constituents. We agree, which is why we’ll be giving some random voter $10,000 just for voting today—because we want to widen the net of local Democracy. But yesterday we also came across this clip from George Carlin’s standup routine, and it momentarily gave us some pause:
We at the Citizen worship at the altar of Carlin, who died in 2008—though we’re pretty sure he isn’t resting peacefully. We can’t help but feel ol’ George was having some fun with us with this anti-voting screed. There were few comedians more engaged in the world, and more political, than him. But we have to keep it real and admit he has a point. Not voting has become far too much of an understandable choice—because, as Carlin says, too many of us feel like our vote is “meaningless.” The problem, according to Carlin, is not our politicians—it’s ourselves. “If you have selfish, ignorant citizens,” he says, “you’re going to get selfish, ignorant leaders.”
We take Carlin’s hilarious rant not as a rebuttal to Rendell’s call to arms, but as a complement to it. Both, in their own ways, are issuing a challenge to us to get our shit together. So start doing that today at your polling place. And you just might run into me toting a big check with your name on it.
Header Photo — Rendell Photo: Flickr/Ted Van Pelt. Carlin Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Bonnie